The Consequences of Defying God Jeremiah44—46
We’ve all heard the expression “jumping from the frying pan into the fire.” The idiom creates a vivid word picture of attempting to escape a bad situation by throwing oneself into an even worse one. At the time of the prophet Jeremiah, people in Judah may have believed they had no recourse but to flee to Egypt when faced with the impending Babylonian invasion. However, God told them to remain in the land. In his last recorded message, Jeremiah clearly taught that defiance—resistance and disobedience to God—has consequences.
The background to the narrative in Jeremiah 44—46 reveals the Jewish people in Egypt failed to believe God’s Word as communicated through Jeremiah. Yet the message was for them. Wrote Bible scholar Charles Dyer, “It applied to those in Lower Egypt which included the northern cities of Migdol, Tahpanhes, and Memphis; and it extended south to Upper Egypt….Thus the message was for all Jews throughout the entire land of Egypt.”1
In chapter 43, Jeremiah denounced those who fled Judah to escape the prophesied Babylonian Captivity. In chapter 44, he addressed their continued practice of worshiping other gods, specifically the “queen of heaven.”
In Egyptian culture, the queen of heaven was known as Isis, the counterpart to the Canaanite goddess of fertility, Ashteroth. Idolatry was one of the sins that provoked God to judge Judah and send the nation into exile. Unfortunately, idolatry was not a passing trend. It was an entrenched lifestyle that had been ongoing for more than a generation (44:21).
Through Jeremiah, God appealed to those worshiping false gods:
I have sent to you all My servants the prophets, rising early and sending them, saying, “Oh, do not do this abominable thing that I hate!” But they did not listen or incline their ear to turn from their wickedness, other gods. So My fury and My anger were poured out and kindled in the cities of Judah and in the streets of Jerusalem (vv. 4–6).
Their pursuit of other gods exhibited their open resistance to Jeremiah’s message. Although he reminded them that such behavior precipitated God’s desolation of Judah and their beloved city of Jerusalem, they insisted on attributing their past prosperity to the queen of heaven:
We will not listen to you! But we will…burn incense to the queen of heaven….For then we had plenty of food, were well-off, and saw no trouble. But since we stopped burning incense to the queen of heaven and pouring out drink offerings to her, we have lacked everything and have been consumed by the sword and by famine (vv. 16–18).
The women chimed in, “And when we burned incense to the queen of heaven and poured out drink offerings to her, did we make cakes for her, to worship her, and pour out drink offerings to her without our husbands’ permission?” (v. 19). Twisting the Law of Moses (Num. 30:6–7), the wives argued that, because they had their husbands’ consent, Jeremiah had no right to interfere.
The arrogant response to Jeremiah is shocking: “As for the word that you have spoken to us in the name of the Lord, we will not listen to you!” (Jer. 44:16). Consequently, God promised only a handful of them would survive the sword and famine to return to Judah:
“And all the remnant of Judah, who have gone to the land of Egypt to dwell there, shall know whose words will stand, Mine or theirs. And this shall be a sign to you,” says the Lᴏʀᴅ, “that I will punish you in this place, that you may know that My words will surely stand against you for adversity” (vv. 28–29).
Ironically, by fleeing to Egypt to escape God’s chastening, the Judeans actually ran headlong into it. Jeremiah had forewarned them, “For thus says the Lᴏʀᴅ of hosts, the God of Israel: ‘As My anger and My fury have been poured out on the inhabitants of Jerusalem, so will My fury be poured out on you when you enter Egypt’” (42:18).
God also gave a sign: “Behold, I will give Pharaoh Hophra king of Egypt into the hand of his enemies and into the hand of those who seek his life” (44:30). Though few from Judah would live to see the sign fulfilled, history records that Hophra lost his throne in 570 B.C.
Jeremiah used four metaphors to underscore the Egyptian army’s vulnerabilities. The first is an image of Egypt described as a “very pretty heifer” about to be destroyed (46:20). The second is of mercenaries who constituted Egypt’s armies, characterized as “fat bulls” awaiting slaughter (v. 21). In the third metaphor, Egypt’s bragging and posturing is pictured as little more than the hissing of a serpent that slithers away in the face of real danger (v. 22). The fourth depicts the Babylonian army as covering Egypt like a cloud of grasshoppers, devastating the forest with axes (v. 23).
The Babylonians conquered Egypt in 568–567 B.C., fulfilling Jeremiah’s prophecy.2 The people of Judah’s bold disobedience perpetuated a misplaced trust in Pharaoh and his armies, which all were powerless to protect them.
- Charles H. Dyer, “Jeremiah,” The Bible Knowledge Commentary, John F. Walvoord and Roy B. Zuck, eds. (Wheaton, IL: Victor Books, 1985), 1:1190
- Warren W. Wiersbe, Be Decisive (Wheaton, IL: Victor Books, 1996), 164–165.